Background/purpose: Motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) account for 50% of pediatric trauma. Safety improvements are typically tested with child crash dummies using an in vitro model. The Crash Injury Research Engineering Network (CIREN) provides an in vivo validation process. Previous research suggest that children in lateral crashes or front-seat locations have higher Injury Severity Scale scores and lower Glasgow Coma Scale scores than those in frontal-impact crashes. However, specific injury patterns and crash characteristics have not been characterized.
Methods: Data were collected from the CIREN multidisciplinary crash reconstruction network (10 pediatric trauma centers). Injuries were examined with regard to crash direction (frontal/lateral), restraint use, seat location, and change in velocity at impact (DeltaV). Injuries were limited to Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) scores of 3 or higher and included head, thoracic, abdominal, pelvic, spine, and long bone (orthopedic) injuries. Standard age groupings (0-4, 5-9, 10-14, and 15-18 years) were used. Statistical analyses used Fisher's Exact test and multiple logistic regressions.
Results: Four hundred seventeen MVCs with 2500 injuries were analyzed (males = 219, females = 198). Controlling for DeltaV and age, children in lateral-impact crashes (n = 232) were significantly more likely to suffer severe injuries to the head and thorax as compared with children in frontal crashes (n = 185), who were more likely to suffer severe spine and orthopedic injuries. Children in a front-seat (n = 236) vs those in a back-seat (n = 169) position had more injuries to the thoracic (27% vs 17%), abdominal (21% vs 13%), pelvic (11% vs 1%), and orthopedic (28% vs 10%) regions (P < .05 for all). Seat belts were protective for pelvic (5% vs 12% unbelted) and orthopedic (15% vs 40%) injuries (odds ratio = 3, P < .01 for both).
Conclusion: A reproducible pattern of injury is noted for children involved in lateral-impact crashes characterized by head and chest injuries. The Injury Severity Scale scores were higher for children in front-seat positions. Increased lateral-impact safety measures such as mandatory side curtain airbags may decrease morbidity. Furthermore, continued public education for positioning children in the back seat of cars is warranted.